Dubbed "Rainbow in the Snow", Hai's free kick against reigning champions Uzbekistan U23s in the 2018 final in Changzhou (China) has finished first in a vote for the iconic goals of the biennial tournament hosted by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Quang Hai won with an overwhelming 1.1 million votes, four times higher the second-ranked goal in the total of eight goals recognised by the AFC as symbolic moments of the tournament.
“At a snow-clad Changzhou Olympic Sports Centre, Nguyen Quang Hai curled home a stunning free-kick to being Vietnam level with Uzbekistan in the final, which would later become renowned in the Southeast Asian nation as the ‘Rainbow in the Snow’,” AFC said about Hai’s stunning goal.
Quang Hai was the brightest star of Vietnam U23s in the China-based tournament two years ago. The Hanoi FC’s star midfielder took the lead in the top scoring list for Vietnam with five extremely important goals in the journey to the runners-up finish of the "Golden Stars", and among them is "Rainbow in the Snow”.
In a recent interview with AFC, Quang Hai was moved to recall the beautiful memories at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship: " ‘Rainbow in the Snow’ is the best symbol because my teammates used their hands to help remove snow from around the ball, and it was a very emotional moment when the ball hit the back of the net. “Now, when we look back at the photos, I feel like we look like the heart in the snow. The goal was not mine, it was the symbol of the Vietnamese competitive spirit,” the Vietnam U23 captain told the-AFC.com.
Quang Hai's superb freekick in the final of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship, dubbed "Rainbow in the Snow". (Video: AFC)
The goal by Quang Hai has been marked in the history of the tournament and will be forever imprinted in the hearts of Vietnamese fans. Although "Rainbow in the Snow" could not bring the championship title to Vietnam U23s that year, as the young “Golden Stars” went on to lose the match 2-1 after a goal in the last minute of extra-time, the historic runners-up finish in China has helped to lift both Quang Hai and a talented young Vietnamese team as they gain recognition across the continent. The achievement also marks the begin of a two-year successful period in which they have achieved success after success under the lead of coach Park Hang-seo.
“The tournament in 2018 is so memorable for me and my teammates as it was the first time Vietnam’s U23 side had reached the final, but we played in conditions we had never experienced before,” Quang Hai said as quoted from the-AFC.com. “But we faced the challenge with unity, confidence and big ambition to achieve victory; we never gave up.”
It can be said that the 2018 AFC U23 Championship has opened a new chapter for Vietnamese football. After the feat at Changzhou, more success followed Quang Hai and the Vietnamese teams over the past two years. Having won the AFC U23 runners-up in early 2018, Quang Hai and the Vietnamese Olympic team finished fourth in the Asian Games, then closed 2018 with their first AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Championship since 2008, after defeating Malaysia in the final at the end of 2018.
In 2019, the "Golden Stars" continue to make a splash by reaching the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup and winning their first gold medal in men’s soccer in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at the end of 2019. Quang Hai also continued to impress after the 2018 tournament, joining his Hanoi FC in making history for Vietnamese football as they are the first Vietnamese team having run to the AFC Cup Inter-Zone final, while the dead-ball specialist has played an integral role as his country currently top their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers group.
“Making the final in 2018 gave us so much collective confidence and made us believe in our ability, so achieving high positions at the AFF Championship and the AFC Asian Cup has made us very proud. We had waited a long time to win the SEA Games, therefore we were also very happy to achieve that victory, and each title is precious,” Quang Hai affirmed.
Closing the year 2019 with the historic gold medal at the 30th SEA Games, Quang Hai and his teammates will enter new journey to make new history for Vietnamese football in the 2020 AFC U23 Championship. (Photo: NDO/Minh Phu)
After two years, Quang Hai will play again in the AFC U23 Championship, but this time, Vietnam U23s enter the tournament with a different position – the position of the reigning runners-up. “Now at the AFC U23 Championship no one will underestimate Vietnam anymore so this will give us a great challenge and we have to make sure we fully prepare for all our matches," Quang Hai emphasised.
In the upcoming tournament in Thailand, Vietnam are in Group D with UAE U23s, Jordan U23s and DPR Korea U23s. Considered to be favourites to progress, home fans are showing great expectation for Park's side to win the first Olympic ticket for Vietnamese football. Quang Hai said: “The love of our fans makes us so happy and we feel their support both at home and when we’re away, but with their expectation comes high pressure for the team. Every day we must try to improve and we want more success at the AFC U23 Championship. We have a difficult group but we will fight for victory to make the Vietnamese people happy.”